Una Leavy,
illustrated by Susan Field,
Irish Fairy Tales & Legends
(Orchard Books, 1996;
Roberts Rinhart Publishers, 1999)

When I first picked up this book, I was eager to share the stories with my children. I'd been looking for a book of Irish legends which would be accessible to them. At first, this title, with its lavish, jewel-toned illustrations and large format, looked just right, but unfortunately, the book misses the mark.

Leavy retells two types of stories, folk tales and stories from the Irish mythological cycles. It is the latter which fail in particular. In the attempt to make the stories accessible to younger readers or listeners, she drains the life out of them. The characters lose their heroic or tragic qualities, leaving the narratives flat. Furthermore, she has a tendency to end sentences with an ellipsis (...) which may have been intended to indicate suspense but is just plain annoying.

The fairy tales don't fare much better, although the last one in the book, "The White Gander," is the best of the bunch and would have made an excellent picture book. This tale of a piper too lazy to learn more than one tune who meets up with a Puca and has an adventure is lively, fun and light enough for a not-too-scary Halloween tale. Leavy includes source notes and a pronunciation glossary.

Field's glowing vibrant watercolor illustrations capture the intended spirit of the tales, but there aren't enough of them. The book is physically attractive, with good use of white space and clear type, but the whole package doesn't come together. The lesson for me is that some things just have to wait -- and introducing my children to Celtic mythology is one of them.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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